Image: FAO//Fredrik Lerneryd
New York: Global hunger levels have skyrocketed because of conflict, climate change and the economic impact of COVID-19; and one in five children around the world is stunted, UN agencies warned on Monday.
New data that represents the first comprehensive global assessment of food insecurity carried out since the coronavirus pandemic began, indicates that the number of people affected by chronic hunger in 2020, rose by more than in the previous five years combined.
Reversing this situation will likely take years if not decades, maintained the World Food Programme (WFP), Food and Agriculture Organization FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), World Health Organization (WHO) and UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF.
Food system reform call
“The pandemic continues to expose weaknesses in our food systems, which threaten the lives and livelihoods of people around the world,” the heads of those agencies wrote in this year’s report, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021 (SOFI).
It notes that around a tenth of the global population – between 720 million people and 811 million – were undernourished last year.
Some 418 million of that number were in Asia and 282 million were in Africa.
Globally, 2.4 billion people did not have access to sufficiently nutritious food in 2020 – an increase of nearly 320 million people in one year.
Climate change hit
The report also highlights how climate change has left communities in developing countries most exposed to hunger - despite the fact that they contribute little to global CO2 emissions.
These poorer nations are also the least prepared to withstand or respond to climate change, said WFP’s Gernot Laganda, who added that weather-related shocks and stresses were “driving hunger like never before”.
This suggests that “it will take a tremendous effort for the world to honour its pledge to end hunger by 2030”, the agencies said in a statement, in a call for food production to be more inclusive, efficient, resilient and sustainable.
Children’s healthy development has suffered too, with more than 149 million under-fives affected by stunting and 370 million missing out on school meals in 2020, because of school closures during the coronavirus pandemic.
Today, 150 million youngsters still do not have access to a school lunch, said WFP, which urged countries to restore these programmes and put in place “even better (ones)… that give children and communities a future”.
“The (report) highlights a devastating reality: the path to Zero Hunger is being stopped dead in its tracks by conflict, climate and COVID-19,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley.
Children’s future potential “is being destroyed by hunger”, he insisted. “The world needs to act to save this lost generation before it’s too late.”
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